Sunday, April 29, 2012

Cheapskates at Disney - Lodgings, Part 3

In this post, I plan to tackle the Moderate and Deluxe Resorts at Disney World.

1.  Moderate:
Larger in size than the Value Resorts, at about 340 square feet, and more elaborately themed, the Moderate Resorts appeal to those who need a bit more space to settle in. More storage is available in these rooms, and most have two sinks (not Coronado Springs). Bus transportation is readily available to all theme park areas. The food courts are a step-up, too, and many of the Moderate Resorts have a table service dining option. The pool areas are more lavish and most include hot tubs, which are not found at Value Resorts.   Rooms in moderate resorts also come standard with small refrigerators and coffee makers.

Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort is rather large.

The pool area at Disney's Coronado Springs Resort is one reason why I fell in love with staying at a Disney Resort.  Dianna first got into a Disney swimming pool right over there by those steps up the Mayan pyramid.

It's lovely shaded walkways that give Disney's Port Orleans Riverside Resort's Alligator Bayou area its secluded feel.  This is my favorite moderate resort.  I would love to stay here again.  If the lush wooded areas don't appeal to you check out the Acadian House side of this resort - think stately southern manor life.  Take the boat from this resort to Port Orleans French Quarter and Downtown Disney.  Bus transportation is available to all other theme parks and attractions.

The lobby fountain alone of Disney's Port Orleans French Quarter is enough to make me want to stay there.  Many folks feel that is resort makes a great romantic getaway, although I'll say that the best anniversary trip for just my husband and me was had at the Riverside portion of Port Orleans.  This resort features a fun waterslide and is just a boat ride away from Downtown Disney and Port Orleans Riverside.  You can get to any of the other major Disney attractions by bus.

The cabins at Fort Wilderness Resort are considered a Moderate level, but they are quite different from the other Moderate resorts.  Much more comfortable for a growing family, the cabins come with a full kitchen.  Also found at Fort Wilderness are sites for your RV, pop up camper, or tent.  You can get really rustic here!

Well, that covers the moderates.  My bottom line? My favorite moderate resort, hands down, is Port Orleans Riverside.  The lushness of the scenery made it feel so secluded. 

On to the Deluxe Resorts . . .

Deluxe Resorts are lavishly themed with dynamite views, both from the individual rooms as well as from the public areas.  The pool areas are more elaborate and most have a kiddie pool area, a spectacular water slide, and a hot tub or two.  Dining options abound.  Resort activities are numerous, including a showing of a Disney movie under the stars each evening, often near the pool.  You can splash away, or relax in the hot tub, and enjoy a family flick. (Not first-run.  When we were there in July of 2011, Rapunzel was being shown.)  Standard rooms are around 340 square feet and deluxe rooms run a bit bigger.  Some of the Deluxe Resorts have expanded suites available.

Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge is an absolutely beautiful resort.  This picture shows the Christmas tree in the 6 story lobby.  Just past the large wall of windows in the background are multiple viewing areas of the resort's savannahs.  Zebras, giraffes, and other exotic creatures are frequently seen.

Disney's Boardwalk Inn is just full of fun, as you can see by the waterslide in the background.  There are numerous dining and shopping options at this Deluxe Resort, and more to do right around the corner.  In the background of this picture, you can spot another Deluxe accomodation: The Swan.  The Boardwalk Inn is within walking distance of both Hollywood Studios and Epcot, and boat transportation is also available to these parks as well as the nearby resorts, The Swan and The Dolphin, The Beach Club, and The Yacht Club.  Bus transportation is available to all other guest areas, although the busses are shared between the same resorts as the boats. (This can mean a rather long wait for a bus or a rather crowded bus or a rather long ride, depending on where you are in the transportation route.)

Oh, Disney's Contemporary Resort is a work of art!  Yes, that monorail is entering the resort! You can eat breakfast downstairs, take the elevator right up to the monorail loading area, and get whisked away to the Magic Kingdom!  With super-modern decor, this resort will take your breath away.  I had a really hard time choosing a picture to show you, since you really need to see them all to get a good idea of the amazing-ness of this resort.  Someday . . . Yes, someday I will get to stay here.  (It isn't cheap! Like the other Deluxe Resorts, rooms run from the $300's per night to almost the $3,000's per night depending on the room type and time of year of travel.)

As I browse through pictures of each resort, I'm astounded.  They just keep looking better and better.  Each one better than the last!  Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa is Disney's flagship resort in the Orlando area.  It doesn't get any better than this.  And the price tag doesn't get any higher, hitting in the $3,000's depending on the type of room and time of year.  Food options abound.  The monorail makes a stop at this resort to take you directly to the Magic Kingdom or to the Ticket and Transportation Center so you can transfer to another monorail heading to Epcot.  The beach area is beautiful, allowing for great views of the Magic Kingdom fireworks show and the Electric Water Parade each evening.  This resort is renown for its romantic atmosphere.

Disney's Polynesian Resort is spectacular.  Look at the lavish theming in the lobby!  Amazing!  We have never stayed at this resort, but we frequently visit.  We'll be having breakfast with Lilo and Stitch at 'Ohana on our upcoming summer vacation, and we'll be back for lunch at the counter service restaurant, Captain Cook's.  The volcano-themed pool area is beautiful, as are the beaches where, like the other Magic Kingdom area resorts, perfect views of the Magic Kingdom fireworks and water parade are available.  You can take a boat from this resort to the other area resorts.  The monorail makes a stop here, as it does at the Contemporary and the Grand Floridian.  Bus service is available to all other guest areas.

Isn't she lovely? Isn't she wonderful? The lobby of Disney's Wilderness Lodge just takes my breath away.  I clearly remember walking into the building for the first time and just thinking, "I didn't know places like this existed on earth."  The Magic Kingdom is just a boat ride away; no monorail service here, though.  Fort Wilderness campground and cabins are within walking distance on a paved, partially shaded walkway.  There are two table service restaurants as well as a pool bar and counter service offerings.  Rooms here, like other Deluxe Resort rooms, are pretty standard in size, although the larger suites and presidential rooms are available.  The price tag is about the same at this resort as the others as well; you'll pay at least $300 per night to stay in this beauty.

The Stormalong Bay pool site is really a highlight at Disney's Yacht Club.  The sand-bottom, zero-entry enormous water play area is a huge amenity at this amazing resort.  Within walking distance of Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and the Boardwalk, there is plenty to keep you busy.  When you're ready for a treat, head over to Beaches and Cream at the nearby Beach Club and try out the Kitchen Sink, a $24, 8-scoop treat topped with an entire can of whipped cream!

Disney's Beach Club is so much  like the Yacht Club that I had a hard time finding a picture that was unique enough to post.  The architecture of the two resorts is nearly identical.  From the outside, you can tell where the Yacht Club ends and the Beach Club begins because the buildings are different colors.  The two resorts share the Stormalong Bay pool area as well as boat and bus transportation.

The Swan

The Dolphin

I'll be honest and say that I don't know a whole lot about the Swan or the Dolphin.  I know they are close to Epcot and Hollywood Studios.  And I know that they sometimes have pretty decent rates (as in less than $200 instead of over $300 per night).  I'm not familiar with the recreation or food offerings at either resort. has plenty of information, though, if you're thinking this might be the place for you.

Wow, I'm exhausted from all the possibilities at Disney.  And after the big dollar signs in this post, does it seem unrealistic to stay at any of these places without having to boycott buying movies, Starbucks, or any food at all for 8 months?  In my next post, I'll tell you how I've stayed at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge, Disney's Wilderness Lodge, Disney's BoardWalk, and Disney's Beach Club but paid less per night than I would at a Value Resort.

Cheapskates at Disney - Lodging, Part 2

Disney's Pop Century Resort - a budget-friendly Tupua family favorite

The cheapest hotel rooms in the Orlando area are definitely found off Disney World property.  We stayed exclusively off-property for the first couple of years of Disney vacations.  We enjoyed ourselves just fine and weren't bothered by the commute to the parks.  Once we stayed on-property, though, we knew we were hooked and wouldn't choose to stay off-property again.  (And that was after just one night at Disney's Coronado Springs Resort.)  In light of that, I'll be focusing here on the types of accomodations available on Disney World property.  To find out more about off-property resorts, visit expedia or allears.

1.  Value Resorts:
     Disney currently offers 4 Value Resorts, with a fourth scheduled to begin phased opening at the end of next month (May 2012). 
          A.  All-Star Movies: With over-sized icons from movies like 101 Dalmations, the All-Star Movies Resort is a favorite among Disney movie lovers of all ages.  The rooms are small, just 260 square feet.  A family of 4 will find this snugly comfortable.  There is only one sink in the bathroom area.  Drawer space is minimal.  A small refrigerator is available.  I have heard rumor that these small refrigerators will soon be standard with all resort rooms, but the last time I visited Disney it did cost about $10 per day to rent one.  The All-Star Movies resort has a food court style dining area (breakfast menu and lunch/dinner menu) and connects to all theme parks, water parks, and Downtown Disney via bus.  At some times of the year, the resort may share bus transportation with the very nearby All-Star Music and All-Star Sports Resorts.  Published rates for an All-Star Movies standard room range from $84 to $184, depending on season and day of the week (weekends are more costly than weekdays).
          B.  All-Star Music: This resort has a special place in my heart.  Our first week-long vacation as a family of three was centered here, when Dianna was just over a year old.  Large icons, similar to those at All-Star Movies, dominate the courtyards.  Various drums, guitars, fiddles, or Broadway-style signs take the place of the dalmation (pictured above) in the center of each building.  While all standard rooms at the All-Star resorts are the same size, the All-Star Music does offer a family suite with more space (and a higher price tag).  A food court similar to that available at all other Value Resorts provides the dining options here; bus transportation is available to all parks and other major attractions.  All Value Resorts have themed pool areas which will appeal especially to children and families.  Laundry facilities are available at all Value Resorts, as well.  Standard rooms range from $84-$184 while family suites range from $198-$375.
          C.  All-Star Sports: You'll find giant footballs, tennis ball cans, and soda cups as the icons at this resort.  This resort is similar in many ways to the other Value Resorts.  The rooms are the same size; the food court has similar offerings; the pools are sports-themed but roughly the same size and in the same locations as the other All-Star resorts. Like the Value Resorts, resort activities are available through the day and into the evening.  Often when Disney hosts events at the Wide World of Sports Complex, this resort will teem with groups of youngsters (little leaguers, cheerleaders, etc). 
          D.  Pop Century: This is the resort that we choose to stay at when we have to pay cash.  It is roughly the same size and design as the All-Stars, but it is not located in the same area.  Currently, the Pop Century Resort does not share bus service with any other resort. (This may change upon the May 2012 opening of the Art of Animation Resort.) 
          E.  Art of Animation: This resort is not open yet but will offer families a whole new range of options.  Family suites abound in this new resort, with a much smaller number of standard-sized rooms.  Calling upon the characters from the very popular Disney-Pixar movies, this resort offers a new level of theming.  I don't know about the menu in the food court here; it may be a step up from other food courts at Value Resorts the way that other areas seem to be a step up.  We will be staying at the nearby Pop Century Resort when this resort is newly opened, so I look forward to exploring the grounds and taking a meal here. 
Much more information can be found at my favorite resort planning site:
I realize that I have touched on only one level (out of 4) of Disney Resort offerings.  The Value Resorts offer the best, well, value, for families.  I'll deal with the other levels in other posts.

Cheapskates at Disney: Lodging

Jarod and Dianna at Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival 2011

I'm beginning a series of posts on how we manage to go to Disney fairly often while maintaining a cheapskate status.  I don't do nearly the job of Kristin from when it comes to saving for the trip.  A Disney vacation savings has become part of our annual budget.  Currently, my goal is to make the most of the money we have saved, to do the most with the least amount of money. 
We once spent 5 days at Disney's Old Key West Resort with not more than $20 in our pockets after buying groceries.  We didn't go to the parks; we just relaxed at the resort, went to the pool every day, visited Downtown Disney, and toured the other resorts.  It was probably the most relaxing Disney vacation we've ever had. I tell that story to say that it's totally possible to go to Disney World without breaking the bank.
One of the most expensive areas of Disney spending is lodging, or at least it can be.  There are rooms available at or near Disney for nearly any budget.  You can get a room for about $45 off-property, or you could spend over $1,000 per night for the most lavish Disney resort room.  We've tried all sorts of methods, and we have definitely found what works for us.  Here are just a few of the ways we have saved on Disney-area hotel rooms over the years:

1.  Priceline.  I think this website has changed their own methods somewhat in recent months, and we haven't used it in several years.  We used it back when you picked the star-level of the room you wanted and gave the price you were willing to pay.  If a hotel was willing to accept your offer, you were automatically booked and informed of where you were staying.  We did this at least 2 times in my memory, and maybe more.  Once we stayed at a Days Inn or Comfort Inn or something along those lines.  Breakfast was provided.  We weren't on-property, but we could get there rather quickly.  Another time we were able to get a room in a Downtown Disney area hotel (Grosvenor), and we enjoyed that as well.  The pros are that you can get a room through the website more cheaply than anywhere else.  The con is that you can't (couldn't? maybe you can now) know exactly which resort you will get.

2.  Expedia.  We booked our honeymoon hotel through expedia and had very good results.  Again, we were off-property; actually, we were at a Howard Johnson Inn and Suites that no longer exists.  We had a very nice suite with a living room area and a small kitchenette and a bedroom with a balcony.  We were within easy driving distance of the parks and very close to restaurants.  Unlike priceline, you can see all kinds of pictures and maps on expedia.  Unfortunately, not every place is as nice as it looks on line.  (We had a pretty horrible experience at a hotel in the Atlanta, GA, area that we booked through expedia.  Truly awful.  But not related to Disney business at all, so back on-topic I go . . .)  Even Disney resorts are available through expedia, sometimes at a cheaper rate than Disney is offering.

3.  AAA.  The AAA website offers all sorts of resort packages, room-only rates, and ticket choices.  While I don't think we've ever purchased from the website, we have bought tickets through the local AAA office.  (I don't think we've ever booked a room through them at all.)  There are Florida resident rates available, as well as regional discounts. (So, Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee, you may be in luck!)  Visit the website ( or your local office for more info.  You do have to be an AAA member to book or purchase; an annual membership costs about $60.

4.  Disney.  We do most of our booking directly with Disney these days.  I have found that the Disney Florida resident discounts are about the best we can find.  I feel very confident in working with Disney; any time I have a question, I can just call and get it answered.  In September 2011, I booked on-line for our summer vacation: 8 nights at Disney's Pop Century Resort.  Earlier this year, when the Florida resident rates were released, I called and had my booking changed to reflect those rates - a savings of about $20 per night.  Then, when my mom and dad offered to share their 3-bedroom timeshare condo with us, I was able to call back and cancel 7 of the 8 nights, no problem.  I also love the on-line check-in option that will be available 10 days before our official check in date.  It makes checking in at the resort so much smoother.  I don't think that option would be available to those staying at a Disney resort on an expedia booking, though. 

5.  Travel agent.  For no extra money at all, you can talk with a knowledgeable Disney travel agent.  They know all you need to know about booking a room at the best possible rate.  You can find tons of Disney travel agents; just google "Disney travel agent" or search on Facebook.  There's somebody out there with just what you need.  I've never used a travel agent to book a Disney vacation; I've studied the guidebooks so much I don't really feel like I need to.  I would recommend considering an agent though, if you're planning a trip for the first time.  Also, check out for LOADS of planning info.

Okay, all of that was just to discuss some of the various ways to book your vacation.  I didn't even go in to the variety of room types available.  Here's my bottom line up to this point:

After booking Disney trips through multiple websites, I've committed to booking through  I get the discounts I need and the customer service I want. 

In my next post, I'll discuss the different types of lodging available and how it can affect your budget.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

So Out of the Game!

I've been doing some Publix shopping again this week. I've been so out of the couponing game that I haven't even tried to track my savings for some time. With Publix doing their gas card deals, though, I just had to get back in it enough to get those. I haven't bought a newspaper in eons, so I don't have any valid coupons. My printer is out of toner, so I can't print those wonderful printables floating around out there. I had to rely on just two coupons per transaction: the $10/50 gas card Publix coupon in the ad and the $5/50 Apple Market coupon our stores accept as competitor coupons. I was able to keep my spending down to close to $60 per transaction and saved an average of over $20 per transaction. To those seasoned couponers out there, this is a horrible failure, but I was pleased with the savings I could get with just my two coupons per transaction. I bought many things that I needed and stocked up on some things that were on sale. I also was able to get a few things we can use on vacation. Hey, I freed up a little more vacation money to be used on other fun stuff!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

I Did It!: King's Hawaiian Bread

I Did It!: Ceramic Coasters

This is such a cheapskate gift! I had so much fun working on these.  I think I enjoyed it so much because I felt successful at every step.  I found a picture on pinterest, a tutorial so simple that the instructions were entirely within the caption of the picture.  I can't wait to have another reason to make some custom ceramic coasters!

I used (and where I bought it):

8 (4x4) ceramic tiles (Lowe's)
Clear spray paint (Lowe's)
E6000 adhesive (Hobby Lobby)
Scrapbook paper (Hobby Lobby)
Felt (Hobby Lobby)
Mod Podge (Hobby Lobby)
Foam brushes (Hobby Lobby)

1. Cut the scrapbook paper into 4x4 squares.
2. Use Mod Podge to adhere the squares of paper to the tiles.
3. Use Mod Podge to "paint" the papered tiles.  Do several coats (I did 4.) and allow to dry between coats.
4. Spray tiles with clear spray paint.  Do several coats (I did 2.) and allow to dry between coats.
5. Cut 4x4 squares of felt.
6. Use the E6000 adhesive to adhere the felt to the back of the tile.  Allow to dry up to 24 hours before using.

Ta-Da! So incredibly easy.  I spent less than 2 hours, excluding time to dry between coats, to make this birthday present.